Office of Technology Licensing Director Katharine Ku retires after 27 years at the helm

June 1, 2018, 2:02 a.m.

Katharine Ku retired Thursday after 37 years of service in the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL).

The OTL oversees the release of Stanford-based technologies “for society’s use and benefit while generating unrestricted income to support research and education.”

The office evaluates invention disclosures from Stanford faculty, staff and students and attempts to license inventions to industry when deemed appropriate. It receives cash royalties from successfully licensed inventions, and subsequently distributes funding to the inventor as well as the inventors’ departments and schools.

Ku joined OTL in 1981 and became executive director ten years later. Under her leadership, the OTL staff expanded from 20 to 48 employees, and the office’s annual revenue rose from roughly $25 million to between $50 and $100 million. In 2001, the Association of University Technology Managers awarded her the Bayh-Dole Award for her work advancing technology transfer.

During this time, OTL witnessed Stanford research on DNA cloning, public key encryption and PageRank, the algorithm that drives Google web searches.

Karin Immergluck, who formerly served as technology management director at the University of California, San Francisco, will assume the executive director role.

“My plan is to build on what Kathy Ku has already established and not reinvent the wheel,” Immergluck told Stanford News. “I welcome the opportunity to ‘channel my inner Kathy’ to become the next global ambassador for Stanford University, its brilliant faculty and its hottest innovations. 

When Ku began work at OTL, she joined a staff of just over five members, half the size of today’s OTL staff.

“We were just a little office then and we didn’t have a formal process,” Ku told Stanford News.

Ku worked to formalize Stanford’s licensing procedures, including policies on conflicts of interest, equity-based compensation and Stanford’s role in creating startups that further researchers’ inventions. In 2007, she developed and implemented a set of nine principles of university technology licensing, which over 120 institutions have signed since then.

Before this, Ku was a patent engineer in the Office of Sponsored Research for two years. Her job was to find potential inventions from research papers following the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act, which gave universities the right to pursue patents with federal funding on technologies that their researchers developed.

Ku told Stanford News she enjoys the variety of consulting on technology licensing and will likely continue to work in the sector. She described her career as “really fun” and said, “There’s always more to learn.”

Ku will stay at Stanford over the summer to advise Immergluck as she begins her new role. Immergluck said she plans to follow in Ku’s footsteps rather than implement any drastic changes to the OTL.


Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man ‘at’ and Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’

Holden Foreman '21 was the Vol. 258-59 chief technology officer. Holden was president and editor-in-chief in Vol. 257, executive editor (vice president) in Vol. 256, managing editor of news in Vol. 254 and student business director in Vol. 255.

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